Alumni Watch: Buckley wins first Korn Ferry Tour title
February 21, 2021
By Staff, PGATOUR.COM
LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. – Mackenzie Tour alum Hayden Buckley went from first alternate on Thursday morning to tournament champion in four days as the 24-year-old birdied the first playoff hole on Sunday afternoon to claim his first Korn Ferry Tour title at the LECOM Suncoast Classic. Buckley sunk a 10-foot birdie putt at the par-4 18th to edge out Dawson Armstrong and Taylor Montgomery at Lakewood National Golf Club.
“I didn’t want to play two holes; I’m tired and my legs hurt,” laughed Buckley after his playoff victory. “It’s hard to believe. To get up there and do what you know you have to do, knowing it will change your life, it’s hard to put into words. It’s just a lot of relief, knowing I can plan a schedule. I have a whole year no matter what and I can compete for a TOUR card.”
With two holes to go, it looked like Clemson alum Billy Kennerly would cruise to victory. Kennerly held a two-stroke lead standing on the 17th tee box, but double-bogeyed the 17th and bogeyed the 18th to miss the playoff entirely.
“With three or four holes left I felt out of it,” reflected Buckley. “Billy was playing so well all day, I think he had a three-shot lead with four to play. I think he bogeyed a few coming in and all of the sudden we were tied going into 18.”
Buckley was the last player in the field and learned he had gained entry into the field approximately 15 minutes before his tee time early on Thursday morning. He raced to the range to hit 10 balls and then made it to the tee in time for his 7:17 a.m. tee time.
“It is painful warming up in the dark but getting the call 15 minutes before and going out and shooting a bogey-free 68 is awesome,” said Buckley. “I really made one bogey through three rounds. That was some of the best golf I’ve seen from myself in really ever.”
On Sunday, Buckley sandwiched a bogey at the fifth with birdies at the fourth and sixth to turn at 1-under. He countered a birdie at the 11th with a bogey at the 13th before parring out the remaining holes. He noted the turning point in his round the par-5 ninth, where he saved par after almost losing his approach shot.
“I don’t even think the crowd saw it, I hit it right over them and it plugged,” said Buckley. “From there honestly I saw the flag and just swung. There’s not much you can do except rely on what you do at home…but that ninth saved me. Just saving par, it could have been a double bogey to take the steam out of me. I think I’ll look back on that shot and making par. It was just a grind.”
With the win, Buckley leaps from 85th to 27th in the points standings. This is his rookie season on Tour after a year on the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada, where he won the 2019 ATB Financial Classic on his way to finishing the season ranked sixth on the Order of Merit. Prior to that, Buckley attended the University of Missouri where he began as a walk-on and left with the lowest scoring average in program history.
While Armstrong, another Mackenzie Tour alum, and Montgomery each missed after making par in the playoff, the T2 finish set a new career-high for Armstrong and matched a career-best for Montgomery. Montgomery moves to 14th in the points standings while Armstrong advances to 37th.
LOS ANGELES, Ca. – Meanwhile on the PGA TOUR, Tony Finau came close to making it a two-win Sunday for the Mackenzie Tour alums. The Utah native lost to Max Homa on the second playoff hole at Riviera Country Club to finish in the runner up slot at The Genesis Invitational – his 21st top-5 finish since the start of the 2016-17 season. Only five other players have more over that time period – but they all have between four and 12 wins each in the span.
Finau’s fearsome form has not come with victories. The 31-year-old hasn’t won on the PGA TOUR since his one and only triumph at the Puerto Rico Open when it was an opposite field event in the 2015-16 season.
On Sunday he reversed a trend that had seen him slink away from the top of the leaderboard on occasions to shoot a blistering 7-under 64. He did not look like a player afraid to win as he notched up eight birdies and just one lone bogey.
“Anytime I've had a chance to win, I haven't been the guy that went low and today I was, so I can take a lot of confidence from that,” Finau said. “That's something that I wanted to happen today to just prove to myself on Sundays that I can put myself in the thick of it and shoot a number. At the end of the day I'm going to be able to look back on that and have a lot of positives to take from it.”
The lack of closing results has seen plenty want to point fingers and claim each near miss is a failure on Finau’s part. Or that the Utah native simply doesn’t have the mental strength to get things done. Finau refuses to yield to that style of narrative.
“It's bittersweet to be in this position again, but I never get tired of playing good golf and that's what I tell myself every week,” Finau said in the aftermath of missing another chance.
“Sports is about winning; I've said that many times. I grew up trying to win every tournament I play, every tournament I play, nothing's changed. But I know at the end of the day you're going to lose a lot more times than you're going to win on the PGA TOUR.
“I'm not a quitter, I'm not someone that's going to fade away into the sunset because I can't win in these situations. I had another great shot today. I don't know what else I can say other than I enjoy playing good golf and one of these days it will happen for me and hopefully turn into kind of a domino effect.”
Finau moved to sixth in the FedExCup with the result and remains entrenched inside the top 15 of the world rankings as he heads to next week’s World Golf Championships – Workday Championship at The Concession.